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Farm stress, drought adds to suicide ideation

Abilene Reflector-Chroncle - 8/28/2023

Aug. 27—Esther Kency, director of crisis services at Central Kansas Mental Health Center, is concerned the number of farmers and ranchers who will die by suicide will increase over the next coup of years.

"We have a lot of concern over this past year with the drought," Kency said. "A lot of people had to turn over their fields and weren't able to grow their crops; there's been a lot of struggles with getting water to cattle some (ranchers) have had to sell off their cattle before they intended to. With those things comes major financial blows and eventually those things catch up."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suicide mortality rate per 100,000 people was: 22.3 for farmers and farm managers; 21.6 for farmworkers; 28.7 in farming, forestry, and fishing; and 15.3 across all other occupations.

"There's a lot of stressors on these families," she said. "The work that they do is very difficult and they have a lot of pressure to do that work and be part of their family."

Over the past decade or more younger farmers and ranchers have increased an effort to be a "present parent" and attend children's activities, which follows national trends across other industries as well. Add in the financial stress of agriculture and farmers are exhausted, Kency said.

"Then when something goes wrong ... it just kind of compiles," she said.

Additionally, men who die by suicide outnumber women 84.1% to 15.9%, according to KDHE statistics for 2021, and men dominate the agriculture industry. While societal norms have shifted somewhat reducing the stigma of asking for help, young men will often view reaching out as a sign of weakness.

An article titled "Expressions of masculinity and associations with suicidal ideation among young males" published in BMC Psychiatry in May 2020 reported that, "Among a group of young men aged 18 — 30years who had attempted suicide, it was found that conformity to masculine norms about emotional containment prevented young men from disclosing the extent of their distress."

Kency said she agrees that the stigma of asking for help continues to keep men from seeking counseling but she said it takes guts to take that step

"One of the things that I truly believe is that it takes a much stronger person to ask for help than to ignore it," she said. "A lot of times these things that cause people to have stress are things that are able to be worked through. Sometimes they just need to see a different perspective."

She would like to see issues related to mental health treated the same as physical health.

"When you are sick and a doctor tells you that your blood results come back and that you have cancer, most people don't bat an eye when they get a referral to an oncologist — that's the next step, that makes sense," she said. "Mental health is physical health. Your brain, your mind it's part of your body. Your mind is an organ. Your brain is an organ."

However, when it is suggested to someone, they go see a therapist, pastor, or someone to talk to about the most pressing issues, which are putting them on the brink, they hesitate. Sometimes the hesitation has to do with not knowing where to go and fear of the cost surrounding mental health, especially if financial issues are at the root of the problem.

"With Kansas Department of Health and Environment reporting a 65% increase in the rate of suicide in between 2001 and 2020, Kency wants people to know that help is available.

"There are multiple ways to access different types of help that people might need," she said. "We at the mental health center of course, are a resource for mental health."

There are online support groups, A national suicide prevention line and the 988-crisis line. They can offer someone to listen and offer resources, she said.

A good first step could also be a person's pastor.

"I would say, probably in the ag community that people tend to talk to their religious leaders before they ... typically reach out for professional help," Kensy said. "That's something we [the Central Kansas Mental Health Center, which serves five counties including Dickinson) are really trying to work on. We're trying to do more things where we are in the communities and going to them versus expecting them to come to us because, historically, that hasn't been too successful."

Kansas Ag Stress

The Kansas Department of Agriculture, along with several ag partners, set up a comprehensive website that has a multitude of resources for individuals and families dealing with ag-related stress.

"The increase in suicide rates among farmers and ranchers is alarming," Governor Laura Kelly said when the website was unveiled. "We must do everything in our power to curb this trend. The website provides additional resources and support to individuals and their loved ones. We must provide our farmers and ranchers alternatives to suicide. We must be there for them." has resource lists broken down into resource links for men, women, youth, veterans, families, older farmers, substance abuse, domestic violence, disaster assistance, employment assistance, and a whole lot more.

Kensy said anyone who is concerned about their own mental health or that of a loved one should check out the numerous resources available to help.


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